Maharaja Bhupinder Singh (1891–1938) was the ruler of the princely state of Patiala in the south-east of the Punjab. He served on the General Staff in France, Belgium, Italy and Palestine in WW1 and he represented India at the League of Nations in the years after the war. But I had initially been very interested in this Maharaja because he was the one who had bought the most fabulous De Beers jewellery from Cartier of Paris in 1928 - five rows of diamonds encrusted in a platinum chain.
And since Patiala was said to be among the wealthiest princely states of British India, I am once again very interested in him because of the banqueting service hallmarked by the Goldsmiths’ and Silversmiths’ Company of London in 1921. It had been commissioned by the Maharaja of Patiala in honour of the Feb 1922 tour of India by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII. The entire dinner service must have arrived in India in time; it was indeed used at the State Banquet held in Prince Edwards's honour. Some sources say that once the three days of royal feasting was over, the set was never used again.
gold-plated silver dinner service created for the Maharaja of Patiala
Each piece with a scroll and foliage border above cast and chased panels of animals, separated by cast daggers, variously engraved or with coat-of-arms, crown and initials. The most impressive object was the centrepiece, formed as three bowls supported on a shaped conforming stand. The flower and foliage decorated feet were applied with cast elephant's mask and the handles of the bowls with cast lion's masks. The stand was not small, being 115 cm wide. I was also very impressed with the pair of soup tureens that had lion mask-capped handles, detachable covers and quatrefoil ogee loop handles. Each was 45 cm wide over the handle.
Needless to say, not even a maharaja’s dining table could hold all the 1400 pieces at one time. Alas some of the pieces went missing eg there are 183 dinner-plates, all that is left from the set that was originally designed for 200 guests. Follow the Christie's reference for further information.
Clearly this Maharaja was not an ordinary man. He was captain of the Indian cricket team, the first individual in India to own his own plane and he definitely loved the 20 Rolls Royce cars that he drove. So perhaps it was not surprising that £2 million (USA $3.25 million) paid at the July 2013 auction set a new world record for an English dinner service. Impressive!
I had assumed that times must have been tough for the family, after Bhupinder Singh’s death in 1938. Otherwise why else would they sell the dinner service? But since his son Maharaja Yadavindra Singh was the first Indian prince to sign the Instrument of Accession, thus facilitating the process of national integration after independence in 1947, perhaps the family was actually well looked after by the modern state.
The princely state of Patiala was in the south-east of the Punjab